Scott Frost says he's tired of looking for silver linings, and I say, "Cheers to that."
Legions of Nebraska football fans will join me in that refrain. Even so, a lot of those same fans will say "cheers" to the contract extension Frost received Saturday morning in the hours before his team took the field for a 37-21 loss to 14th-ranked Wisconsin.
The good people of our state generally seem to understand what Frost is up against in building his program. But the good people perhaps watched the game to evaluate whether the Big Red football boss would earn his daily wage. I'd say Frost had his team ready to battle. Nebraska fans saw some pleasant surprises — Dedrick Mills (17 carries for 188 yards and a touchdown) foremost among them. The fans also saw Adrian Martinez trend toward the Adrian Martinez of old.
And get this: Nebraska fans saw the Huskers enter the fourth quarter with a decent chance to pull off easily their best win of the season. But in the end, the better program prevailed, with Wisconsin improving to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten.
Nebraska players emerged with their chins up. Frost continued in the vein of almost sounding recharged at this late juncture of the season. That's all well and good. But the bottom line was a seventh straight loss to the standard-bearing program in the Big Ten West Division (with due respect to upstart Minnesota).
And let's be real: The bottom line for Nebraska — in this case, a 16-point loss — felt all too predictable.
It's understandable, too. Frost is in the early stages of building a program, while Wisconsin's is fully mature.
But yeah, it felt all too predictable because Wisconsin rushed 45 times for 320 yards, an average of 7.1 per attempt. Jonathan Taylor, who had averaged 9.6 yards per attempt in hammering Nebraska's defense the previous two seasons, finished with 25 carries for 204 yards (8.2) and two touchdowns. In the postmortem, Husker linebacker Mohamed Barry said he felt NU "did a good job with our run defense."
That might be pressing a little too hard to find silver linings.
Nebraska (4-6, 2-5) committed only three penalties; that's a legitimate silver lining. Same goes for Martinez rushing 16 times for 89 yards in guiding his team to 493 yards of total offense against the nation's second-ranked defense.
"Adrian played like the Adrian we know," Frost said after watching the sophomore complete 13 of 23 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown, with an interception. "That kid has gone through a lot, through our struggles. I went through it (as NU's quarterback in 1996), when we were 11-2 and I was the most-hated guy in the state of Nebraska. It's hard. But he's been battling like a warrior; he hasn't been 100% for a lot of this year.
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"We're not good enough around him yet, but he played like the guy we expect him to be except for a couple of plays."
One of those plays was Martinez's second-quarter interception. Although Frost said it was "unfortunate in some ways," the coach wasn't overly critical of the throw. It wasn't a bad read. It was just that a Wisconsin defender tipped the ball near the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Jack Sanborn snared it deep in Nebraska territory. Three plays later, the Badgers pushed the lead to 24-14, and the stadium went quiet.
Early in the third quarter, as Nebraska tried to rally from 13 down, Martinez took a 20-yard sack on first-and-10 at Wisconsin's 24. It was an absolute no-no. A buzzkill deluxe. The drive ended with Barret Pickering missing a 41-yard field goal.
Then, the predictable part of the matchup took over the day. The Badgers pounded out a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive — using eight run plays along the way. Taylor ran five times for 48 yards during the march, capping it with an 11-yard run as the lead swelled to 34-14.
Bully to Nebraska for hanging around and making the afternoon mildly interesting. But when the dust cleared, it felt incredibly … normal. I'm guessing you won't hear hysteria from Husker fans this week because they largely got the result they expected, and generally in the manner they expected.
Yeah, there were the silver linings. But there also were familiar bugaboos. Nebraska's special teams were again abysmal, with Aron Cruickshank's 89-yard kickoff return (right after NU's first touchdown) quieting a home crowd just dying to explode. That topped the list of special-teams warts. I was a little surprised at how patient Frost seems with that phase of the game.
Nebraska's tackling was poor much of the day. But any criticism of the defense is mitigated by the absence of injured linemen Darrion Daniels and Carlos Davis. What's more, safety Cam Taylor-Britt missed time after suffering an injury in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the offense's best skill-position player, Wan'Dale Robinson, sat out because of injury, which helps explain why Nebraska three times in the second half drove inside Wisconsin's 25-yard line and came away with zero points.
Martinez, though, emerged with his head held high. That was good to see. Yeah, another silver lining.
"I fought my tail off," he said. "I had a couple bad plays, but I was fighting for my teammates. I feel like I was getting back to my old self out there."
All in all, I saw enough to believe Nebraska can win its final two games and qualify for a bowl game.
I also saw a lot of what I figured I'd see, culminating with a result that was eminently predictable.